Review: Which Side Are You On


Which Side Are You On?Elaine Harger. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2016.

Summary: An account of seven debates in the American Library Association Council over matters of social responsibility and how this body exerts its influence in broader social debates.

Most of us have the impressions of libraries as sedate places with librarians who are helpful, interested in serving the reading and information needs of patrons, and knowledgeable about the resources they have at hand. The most political act of most librarians seems to be supporting “Banned Books Months,” featuring attempts to remove books from circulation patrons may deem objectionable.

This last is actually the tip of the iceberg according to Elaine Harger, who has served as a Councilor-at-Large within the American Library Association (ALA) and on the Social Responsibilities Round Table. In this book, she recounts what appear to have been lively and contentious debates around seven issues that suggest a far from sedate, sometimes contentious, and sometimes very politically motivated association. In the course of these debates she explores some challenging issues such as the conflicts between intellectual freedom, censorship, and social justice; the tension between patron privacy and protection from surveillance and national security; relating to corporate partners whose products or views conflict with the social consciousness of librarians; and even the difference between stated views around climate change and climate unfriendly practices.

The first debate concerns the re-issuance of a 1975 film called The Speaker concerning the controversial race and gene theory ideas of William Shockley. Originally an ALA expose’, over the years it was deemed moral offensive to minority communities and its reissuance and presence on YouTube raised the ire of many, while receiving calls of intellectual freedom from others.

The second concerns the banning of anti-apartheid books in South Africa and how the ALA along with other library groups would advocate against this practice and boycott South African vendors. The third confronts a somewhat similar issue in Israeli and Occupied Territories and the censorship of materials deemed a threat to the State of Israel. Here interests favoring Israel and those opposing censorship clashed seriously.

The fourth and fifth debates concerned corporate partners. In the fourth, the concern was the sponsorship of McDonald’s of children’s reading programs, with its corporate logos prominent on all the materials. Can an organization concerned with the deleterious effects of the fast food sold on the McDonald’s menu work with such a corporate partner. This is even more tendentious with the Boy Scouts, an organization who had long worked in promoting reading with Scouts but whose positions around excluding homosexual boys and adult leaders from participation made it unsupportable.

The sixth discussion turns on privacy concerns, particularly in the face of Edward Snowden’s release through Wikileaks of massive amounts of documentation showing the extent of government electronic surveillance intruding into all of our lives. For librarians concerned with patron privacy (that their searches, borrowed materials records, and other electronic activity with the library remain private), this was an issue that struck close to home. Yet a resolution to not only decry this intrusion upon Fourth Amendment rights but also to support whistleblowers like Snowden, although passed, was pulled for a tamer substitute because of pressures from the ALA’s Washington office.

The final debate, more a personal cry of the heart of the author concerns the gap between statements of concern around climate change and activities from cross-country travel to uses of resources and energy that conflict with the avowed seriousness of concern for climate change. One of the most interesting parts of this chapter was the author’s personal testimony and example that including resigning her Councilor position and restricting her airline travel because of her concerns.

The chapters give detailed accounts of these debates including transcripts of some discussions and various parliamentary maneuvers. I suspect that this may be of greatest interest to “library insiders” but I found several things fascinating:

  1. I’m glad librarians are concerned and speaking out about Fourth Amendment intrusions upon privacy. I wonder if librarians might also exercise a greater role in educating patrons on how to protect personal information from identity theft and from parties that might use personal information in other ways to their disadvantage.
  2. It is intriguing that librarians, as curators of information, may privilege certain forms of information to the exclusion of others. Even if there is intellectual freedom, if socially unacceptable views are not accessible, this can amount to a subtle form of censorship. In particular, many of our current social debates are framed in a very binary fashion, in which a person who does not fully embrace the socially privileged view is pigeonholed with the benighted “others”. Thoughtful dissenters from social orthodoxy are easily lumped in with outright bigots. My question is, will librarians allow a civil and pluralistic public square of ideas, even conflicting ideas, to flourish?
  3. It was striking to me that this association is hardly immune to political pressures from right or left. Its effectiveness would seem to rest in its skill to adequately represent its constituents, be transparent in its processes, and courageous when it takes positions and encounters opposition.
  4. The author’s final chapter underscores a great challenge any of us working in the knowledge world face. We can talk a better game than we live. Praxis is just as important as the positions we take.

I do think the title of this work is interesting. “Which side are you on?” conjures up a vision of those who are right, those who are wrong. Yet one wonders if it is really that simple in the library or the real world. It also suggests a form of conflict resolution with winners and losers. As I mention above, we love to create binaries, excluding the possibilities of third options, which may be possible at least in some cases. There certainly are some evils simply to be resisted, but not all things are like that in society. Often, better resolutions come as we understand situations better and also have a better sense of the range of options available. Librarians, it seems to me have a unique access to such information, that suggests the potential that they may contribute uniquely and significantly to conflict resolution where there are people of good will.

“Which side are you on?” may accurately reflect the social responsibility debates of the last twenty-five years in library circles. Who will be the people in the library world and elsewhere who frame a different “come together” conversation? I hope I will see that book someday.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher via LibraryThing. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: Thumbprint in the Clay


Thumbprint in the Clay, Luci Shaw. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2016.

Summary: A series of reflections, including some of the author’s poetry, on the “marks of the Maker” evident both in creation and in our lives.

True confessions. My wife is not a fan of most Christian writing. She finds much of it tedious, repetitive, and stylistically poor. And so when this book came in a shipment of books, I passed it along to her, being familiar with some of Shaw’s other work. This book passed “the wife test”! Not only did she read it through, but she kept talking about different ideas, and wanted me to read it so we could talk about it together. And we did. This does not happen often.

The basic idea of the book is a series of reflections considering the “marks of the Maker” that we see both in the creation around us and in the unfolding of our lives and relationships, marks of beauty, order, and grace that reveal something of the Maker’s character. She introduces this by speaking of a collection of mugs and other pottery around her home and how they are reflections of the artists who made each piece:

Each piece, whether it’s a mug, a mixing bowl, a milk pitcher, a vase, a turkey platter, a serving dish, is the result of combining earth and human eye and muscle with individual design, skill and intense heat. Some of these treasures are hand built, some shaped on the potter’s wheel, many bearing the thumbprint signatures of the potters themselves or their names or logos scrawled on the mug handle or the bowl base. Having that personal identifying mark makes a piece of pottery memorable to me. It’s as if the maker is proclaiming his unique identity, saying, “Don’t forget! I impressed this mark in the clay before firing to let you know it is authentically my artifact, and it will always be personal, from me to you.”

The book reflects her wide travels from her home in the Pacific Northwest on Bellingham Bay to cathedrals in New York City to the desert landscape of the American Southwest. She sees these marks in both the beauty and majesty of nature and in the great works of human artistry. There is a physicality about this book that ranges from pottery to mountains and the love of physical books, to the capabilities and frailties of the author’s body. At one point, she recounts a revelatory conversati0n with Fr. Richard Rohr, who says, “I could sit for hours and simply contemplate that tree. Those leaves. Even that one leaf in particular.” I found this resonating with my own experiences of spending a couple hours looking at and sketching a single flowering Columbine plant.

The book traces an arc moving from physical creation to our lives, which also bear unique and distinctive marks of the Maker’s work, marks that point to his forming and molding, sometimes through pain and suffering, that make us both unique creations and reflections of the Creator. Perhaps one of the most moving chapters was toward the end as she recounts the powerful impact of Clyde Kilby, Wheaton professor and C. S. Lewis scholar in recognizing, encouraging, and defending her emerging calling as a writer against her father’s aspirations for her of mission service. At one point he told her father, “Dr. Deck, excuse me, but I believe that is your vision not your daughter’s.”

The writing moves in a bit of a “stream of consciousness” mode around the chapter themes, with some of the author’s poetry interspersed. These are reflections, not an exposition. They allow us to walk alongside a deeply spiritual, keenly observant, long time spiritual pilgrim, and wise woman. At first I thought that this might be a good book for older fellow pilgrims that might give words to their journey, and indeed, this is so. But I also think that for younger pilgrims, particularly those of an artistic bent, this could be a great book for seeing what the life of faith looks like after a lifetime, what a life is like that has been “imprinted” by this way of seeing over sixty, seventy years or more. For all of us, it can be more helpful in opening us up to seeing the ways the great Artist has left “thumbprints” all over that reveal the wonders of the Artist, as well as what the Artist has made.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Spinning Bowl Salads


2oth Century Restaurant, photo courtesy of Morris Levy, used with permission.

One of my favorite college memories was a small group of friends that would gather for dinner at the end of each quarter at Youngstown State. We would meet up at the 20th Century Restaurant, with its art deco architecture, and usually several of us would end up sharing one of their legendary Spinning Bowl Salads. The 20th Century was located on Belmont Ave, at the “Belmont Point” where Belmont and Wirt Street merged.

The Spinning Bowl Salad was a trademark of the 20th Century Restaurant from its beginnings in 1941. The restaurant was opened by Harry and Faye Malkoff, who ran several other restaurants in the area including one of our favorites, the Golden Drumstick, located on the South side. Faye Malkoff was apparently a culinary genius. In Classic Restaurants of Youngstown, her son says that she based the recipe on one used at Lawry’s Steakhouse in Los Angeles, adding her own unique touches (p. 112). I’m inclined to believe this version of the history, although there is an alternate claiming it was picked up from the Blackhawk Steak House in Chicago. A Baltimore Sun article from May 10, 2000 makes this connection and provides a recipe that sounds like the salad I remember.

The big deal with the Spinning Bowl Salad was that it was made at your table, the bowl literally being spun as the salad was tossed and the special blue cheese-based and crumbled egg dressing was added. It was a show as well as a feast–we’d often share one, along with other entrees.

The restaurant had a diverse menu and it was all good–everything from steaks and spare ribs to deli sandwiches and pasta. Living on a college student budget a plate of spaghetti, a share of a Spinning Bowl and one of their famous chocolate creme pies or New York Cheesecakes would leave you pretty satisfied.

By the time I started going there to eat in the early ’70s, ownership had passed to Joseph and Morris Levy, along with brothers Marvin and Jacob Newman (Classic Restaurants, p. 112). I regret that I never visited during the heyday of the Malkoff’s ownership, but it sounds like the Levy’s kept the wait staff who had worked for the Malkoff’s along with a chef trained by Faye. I spoke to Morris Levy who gave me permission to use the picture in this article. I joked with him that as a sometimes boisterous college students he probably had to shush us. He said most likely he would have joined in with the fun. At any rate, we always found the 20th Century a great place for good food and celebration.

During this time, much of the business growth on the North side had moved north of Gypsy Lane into Liberty Township. The area of Belmont on which the restaurant was located began to decline and customers felt increasingly unsafe visiting the restaurant. Ultimately, it was closed in the late 1980’s and is no more.

Still, as restaurants go, a forty-five year plus run is pretty amazing when so many start ups last only a few years. It was a great place for first dates, anniversaries, celebrations, or a place for a good lunch if you worked downtown or on the North side. It combined a unique atmosphere with great, distinctive menu items. And for most of us, what we will remember most is those awesome Spinning Bowl Salads.

I hope you will add your memories of the 20th Century to this post.

[After sending a copy of this post to Morris Levy, he sent me this recipe for the Spinning Bowl Salad.]


Dressing: 50% Miracle Whip,  50% KRAFT Zesty Italian. Whip until smooth.

Croutons: Use day old white sandwich bread cut into
squares.  Bake lightly on both sides,  sprinkle with powdered garlic/
liquid butter mix, then  bake somemore.

Hard boiled egg: grated. Crumbled blue cheese

Head lettuce chopped coarsely, optional a tad of escarole

Enjoy,  Morris ‘Blondie’ Levy

[Want to read more of “Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown?” Click “On Youngstown” here or on the menu to see over a hundred other posts!]



Review: In Search of Moral Knowledge


In Search of Moral KnowledgeR. Scott Smith. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2014.

Summary: Surveying the history of ethical thought, it argues for the possibility of universal moral knowledge contrary to contemporary theories consigning moral propositions to the realm of subjective, relative values.

Instinctively, we know that some things are just right, and some wrong. Cold-blooded murder, rape, child abuse, and genocide are just wrong. Sacrificial love of a parent for a child, or a spouse, impartial standards of justice, and marital faithfulness are just right. Yet moral theory since Kant considers moral statements to simply be assertions of value or sentiment, as opposed to statements of fact. Moral knowledge is not possible in the same sense as scientific knowledge.

R. Scott Smith believes in the possibility of religiously based moral knowledge that may afford universal moral knowledge. But before making his case he surveys the history of ethical thought on these questions. First of all, he considers classical and early Christian ethical theories, including that of great thinkers from Augustine through Aquinas that rooted ethics in the transcendent. Following the Enlightenment and the focus on human reason, Smith traces the rise of naturalism, and the fact-value dichotomy, modern moral theories of John Rawls’ political liberalism and Christine Korsgaard’s constructivism. He turns to post modern theorists and the efforts of Christian ethicists, Alasdair McIntyre and Stanley Hauerwas.

In the final part of this work, Smith outlines his own argument for religiously based moral knowledge, rooted in the case for the existence of the Christian God, basing this in the cumulative case for God’s existence and thus the basis for universal moral knowledge in the transcendent. The veracity of historical evidences for Christian revelation justify this as a source for moral knowledge.

I think this work offers a great survey of ethical thought that makes it a valuable text for a course in ethics in a Christian college or seminary context, or a valuable “alongside” reading for the student in a similar course in a secular context. It is thorough, extensive and carefully argued. It also reveals the conundrum of modern ethical thought in making assertions about morality absent any basis for arguing for moral facts.

Given the thoroughness of the survey, the author’s statement of his own theory of universal moral knowledge seemed quite brief. He does deal with some objections, but I would have liked to seen a fuller defense of the premises of his argument, particularly because the title adverts to “overcoming the fact-value dichotomy.” Adding the word “toward” would probably be more accurate. This, however, is valuable in itself as a critical survey of moral thought that may be adequate for the needs of many and lay the groundwork for further reading of more extensive treatments in other works.

Bob on Books Offline For a While

I’ve been posting consistently six times a week for the past few years. I’m going to have to take some time offline to deal with a health issue. Hope to be back in a week or so! But there are lots of reviews, and other posts on reading, life, Youngstown, and more that you can check out–over 1000 in all! Thanks for following so faithfully!

Review: Handel: The Man & His Music


Handel: The Man & His MusicJonathan Keates. New York: Random House, 2009.

Summary: A biography of George Frideric Handel, tracing his life through his music, from his training in Halle, his time in Italy, and his long career in England, following George I’s ascent to the English throne, through the formation of three opera companies, and the composition of the oratorios for which he is most famous.

For most of us, when you mention Handel, we think primarily of his most famous works: The Royal Fireworks Music,The Water Music,  Judas Maccabeus, The Concerti Grossi, and most of all Messiah. For a long time these were about the only works of Handel in my music collection. In recent years, I’ve discovered that Handel composed numerous other operas and oratorios on biblical and classical themes. But until I read this book, I had no idea of how much music Handel composed, particularly in the genre of opera.


The Queens Theatre in the Haymarket in London where many of Handel’s operas were first performed, by William Capon

Keates biography really is just as much musicography as it is biography. Part of the reason is that Handel, apart from his music, lived a very private life, never marrying. We do learn about his family including his physician father. We learn about his training in Halle, his time in Italy learning from Corelli and Scarlatti, and most fatefully, how he became kapellmeister to the Elector of Hanover in 1710, and moved to London in 1712 when the Elector ascended to the English throne as George I. Handel never depended exclusively on the Royal Family for patronage, enjoying the patronage of other wealthy houses. He also helped launch, over the years, three opera companies. When, in the 1730’s interest in his operas waned, he began writing oratorios, leading to Samson, Alexander Balus, and above all, Messiah and Judas Maccabeus. We learn of Handel’s temporary paralysis (perhaps from stroke?) and the eventual loss of his sight, the use of the proceeds of Messiah performances for the Foundling Hospital, and his passing in 1757.

What we learn most from Keates is about the music itself–the libretti and the librettists Handel worked with, the scenes and movements, music drawn from earlier work and the performers who first performed these works. We are introduced to ‘il Senesino,’ Handel’s star castrato (a role likely not to be filled in this way in our more humane age) and Susannah Cibber, who sang “He was despised” in Messiah. She did not have a great voice but was unmatched in her expressiveness, as an actor. We also trace the career of Handel, the music impresario, and the struggles hardly unique to his age to make musical performances and companies financially viable, as well as profitable to himself. He was perhaps more successful than most, due particularly to his oratorios, leaving an estate of 20,000 pounds, distributing bequests to a number of causes and friends.

Some might consider his account of the works and their first performances too much. But for the musicophile who wants to discover Handel’s lesser known works, many of which have been recorded in the last thirty years, the book makes a great adjunct to the discovery of these works. One of the indexes Keates includes is one by category and alphabet to all the works referenced in his book, with page numbers. I would also have appreciated a chronological listing, and perhaps a discography of recordings of these works.

After a period when Handel’s reputation was in eclipse, he once again has grown in regard. Keates work instructs us on many of the lesser known aspects of his life and work, and the prolific body of work that remains for many of us to discover.

An Amazing Bookstore


One of the many alcoves at Blue Jacket Books, an amazing store in Xenia, Ohio

Have you had the experience of discovering an amazing bookstore, one that seemed to have any book about anything? There seemed to be miles of shelves, cubby holes where you could curl up with a book, and great bargains on remaindered books–ones you wanted to read when they were full price, except you hadn’t gotten around to it.

In a Literary Hub article I discovered that we have James Lackington to thank for all of this. Lackington opened a store in 1774 in London that revolutionized bookselling to this day. His store, The Temple of Muses, eventually stocked 500,000 volumes. He bought large quantities of remaindered titles and, instead of destroying most of them to drive up the price, he passed the savings on to customers. He had four floors of books with “lounging rooms” for customers. It sounds like it was an incredible place.

I remember my first visit to a Borders store while we were house hunting in Columbus. This was when they were still owned by the Borders brothers. I couldn’t believe the depth of selection in each topic area, there was an amazing sale table, and lots of places to sit and browse your finds, as well as a cafe so that you could do it all drink in hand. All the things Lackington figured out made a great bookstore were present.

Now Borders is gone. There is only one major brick and mortar bookseller to speak of. More and more, the selection is limited to either the most significant or most current books in a genre. The only “everything” store is online. But there are still some great stores around the country such as Powell’s or BookPeople who still approximate this ideal. And the second hand stores, particularly some of the Half Price Books stores provide the opportunity for finding great bargains and unusual books. There are some independents as well, some in out of the way places like Blue Jacket Books in Xenia, Ohio that approximate this ideal.

I find myself wondering if a generation from now, people will still have the jaw-dropping experience of walking into a huge bookstore that seems to stock everything, where there are miles of aisles and shelves to explore on every conceivable topic. I also wonder if we will foster a culture that values such places. But there is the wonderful experience of finding your favorite section, and leisurely reading down the shelves of books and making those serendipitous finds that a logarithm or a heuristic might not predict because it only goes off your past history, and not your future interests, the ones that may be awakened by a title, a book cover, or a table of contents. It is a cultural good I hope we do not lose.

I do feel fortunate because in our city, Columbus, while we don’t have any “temples” to books, we have some pretty interesting stores. Some, like the Book Loft in German Village, with its 32 rooms over a couple floors, or the Half Price store on Lane Ave that sprawls and winds through a couple connected buildings get kind of close to Lackington’s ideal. A while back I wrote a post about bookstore crawling in Columbus. If you ever come through, I hope you will come visit some of my favorite places and help keep them alive!

I’d love to hear about your amazing bookstore experiences, so I can visit if I ever come through your town!

The End of Books & Culture Magazine?


It appears from an announcement in Editor John Wilson’s weekly newsletter that Books & Culturea publication of Christianity Today, is coming to an end with the forthcoming November-December issue. A tweet on @booksandculture indicates that they will continue to publish in some form online until the end of 2017.

The warning signs that this was coming. The publication was nearly shuttered in 2013, but saved by pledges that at that time were supposed to keep it afloat until 2018, according to a Christian Century article at the time. The article indicates that Books & Culture has struggled financially throughout its history and been subsidized to the tune of between $1 and $2 million by the parent company, Christianity TodayChristianity Today itself has struggled with financial losses in recent years and shut down several other publications. It’s surprising that Books & Culture lasted this long.

Alan Jacobs, in his blog this morning, wrote this tribute to the magazine and its long-time editor John Wilson:

“For twenty-one years, Books and Culture has been one of the most consistently interesting magazines in the English-speaking world. I have often been surprised at the number and range of people who agree with me about that. Alex Star, a former editor of the New York Times Magazine and now an editor at Farrar, Straus & Giroux, once told me that he read every issue in full. Cullen Murphy, former editor of the Atlantic, told me that John Wilson is the best editor in the business.”

This was my own experience. I have been a subscriber through most of its 21 year history. Books & Culture featured a great stable of writers and reviewers discussing important books on just about every subject, many not by Christian writers, but addressing important questions about the human condition and human flourishing. I found it a wonderful complement to mainstream sources like the New York Times Book Review and others, and the writing of equal quality.

This may be why the review lasted as long as it did. Christianity Today in its beginnings reflected a vision of an evangelicalism with intellectual as well as theological heft, and Books & Culture certainly has continued that tradition. A blog post by long-time Christianity Today board member Fred Smith back in 2013 underscores this idea. He writes:

“I studied the writings of the first editors – especially Carl F. H. Henry.  I pored over the original statement of mission. “Christianity Today has its origin in a deep-felt desire to express historical Christianity to the present generation. Neglected slighted misrepresented—evangelical Christianity needs a clear voice to speak with conviction and love ” and to state its true position and its relevance to the world crisis. A generation has grown up unaware of the basic truths of the Christian faith taught in the Scriptures and expressed in the creeds of the historic evangelical churches.”  It slowly dawned on me that Books & Culture may well be the inheritor of that early vision and not simply a way of proving to an educated and sophisticated world that evangelicals were peers and intellectually formidable.

I suspect the decision came down to the reality that Books & Culture could not hemorrhage finances forever and no one with deep enough pockets and long enough commitment has come along to sustain its publication. But in this, I see several concerning realities:

  • For one, this reflects that the vision of Christianity Today’s founders has not caught fire today. Books & Culture from what I can tell averaged between 9,000 and 11,000 subscribers at best in a country of 320 million. It is likely that subscription revenues defrayed less than half its costs.
  • This suggests to me that a significant part of the Christian public has little concern with finding out about the best that is being thought and written today, and considering how our faith engages those ideas.
  • I also wonder how much this reflects the impact of the internet, where we can find all kinds of information for free. What this doesn’t take into account is how important good, curated sources of information including reviews are to informed reading. Within the Christian community Books and Culture was undoubtedly one of the best sources. It’s worth paying for such things. C. Christopher Smith’s Englewood Review of Books and Byron Borger’s Booknotes are valuable resources, as are the reviews in First ThingsBut none has the breadth of what Books & Culture offered or brings together so many talented writers.

Books & Culture offered reviews of thoughtful writing for those hungering for something more than the banal offerings that make most of the Christian best-seller lists. It offered resources for aspiring scholars in every field wanting to think more deeply and Christianly about their work. The death of this publication will leave us all impoverished. Thank you John Wilson, and all who wrote for B & C for enriching our lives for the past two decades. You will be sorely missed!

Endorsers Repent!


Wayne Grudem, By Wayne Grudem, CC BY-SA 3.0,

On August 5, I wrote a post called “The Endorsement Game.” I opened the post with this paragraph:

“My Facebook feed has been filled with both defenses of and outrage toward the various evangelical leaders, including Wayne Grudem, who have endorsed the Republican candidate for the U.S. Presidency. Maybe the reason for this is that I have friends across the spectrum (yes there is one!) of evangelical belief who have lots of different takes on these endorsements, and on the fitness for office of the one being endorsed.”

I return to this post because over the weekend Dr. Grudem withdrew his endorsement of the Republican candidate for president and called upon him to resign. I was heartened to see this and a willingness to acknowledge his own error, according to a Washington Post article, of not taking time to investigate earlier allegations about the candidate’s character before making his endorsement.

I credit Dr. Grudem’s integrity of publicly acknowledging an error instead of doubling down as others have done, even justifying the candidate’s language as “locker room banter,” which seems to me appalling, particularly among supposed evangelicals.

What distresses me however is that Dr. Grudem never even begins (to my knowledge) to question the basic practice of endorsing candidates as an “evangelical leader” and the entanglement of the gospel with partisan politics. He only is saying that he made a bad decision this time. I would argue that this is always a bad decision for evangelical leaders for one fundamental reason (evangelicals like fundamentals!):

Endorsing one party’s candidate carries with it the implication that you can only be a Christian if you vote a certain way.

I know most leaders wouldn’t say that (although it wouldn’t surprise me that some would). But I have friends who have been repulsed from Christian faith for precisely this reason. The warning of Matthew 18:6 is one I think every evangelical endorser ought to consider seriously:

“But if you cause one of these little ones who trusts in me to fall into sin, it would be better for you to have a large millstone tied around your neck and be drowned in the depths of the sea.” (NIV)

Furthermore, I would argue that the leaders who endorse, whether conservative or progressive, have led the flocks who follow them into political captivity, fostering deep estrangements within the Christian community in our land across racial and economic lines. The prophets of the Old Testament denounce the shepherds of Israel for scattering the sheep. I will be blunt–leaders who engage in this kind of political activity as leaders of the evangelical community are misleading their flocks and are under the judgement of God (cf Jeremiah 23:1-8; Ezekiel 34; Zechariah 10:2-12).

Unless evangelical leadership repents of this kind of behavior (repent means to turn, in thought and action, because of the awareness that one has transgressed), that leadership will find that they aren’t leading anything. Their cry will be “Ichabod!” which means “the glory has departed.” Repentance isn’t simply withdrawing embarrassing endorsements, it is to cease from this endorsement game, which idolizes political power, to the denial of the greater power of the kingdom, whose heralds they are called to be.

Those who read me regularly probably find this writing uncharacteristic of me. You are right. But I am deeply angry and grieved, not with the presidential candidates, but with the harm I’ve watched these “evangelical leaders” commit over a generation to the gospel I love and how they’ve besmirched the glory of the Christ I love and how their activity is turning away a generation of spiritual seekers. Given how far we’ve sunken in this current election, I’ve wondered if we’ve come to our last chance to turn from this political and spiritual folly. Lord, have mercy!

Review: How to Survive the Apocalypse


How to Survive the ApocalypseRobert Joustra & Alissa Wilkinson. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2016.

Summary: Explores the fascination of the apocalyptic in contemporary film, television, and gaming through the lens of Charles Taylor’s work on secularism and the self.

“The world is going to hell.

Just turn on the television–no, not the news. Flip over to the prestige dramas and sci-fi epics and political dramas. Look at how we entertain ourselves. Undead hordes are stalking and devouring, alien invasions are crippling and enslaving, politicians ignore governance in favor of sex and power, and sentient robots wreak terrible revenge upon us” (p. 1).

With these words, the authors explore the contemporary fascination with apocalyptic that runs through dystopian fiction, film, television, and gaming. Like Andy Crouch, who wrote the Foreward to this book, I have spent far less time than these writers (almost none at all, truthfully) with the media they explore in this work, although I am aware of the contemporary fascination with this. I picked it up because I was interested in why the fascination.

For the authors, the work of Charles Taylor, and particularly The Secular Age shape their analysis of contemporary apocalyptic. They note that there has always been apocalyptic literature, but that the character of that literature exposes the character of the age and the concerns that age arouses in us. For them, Taylor’s understanding of how secularity has shaped the self makes sense of the themes of the apocalyptic in our own age. We see it in our quest as “buffered selves” for authenticity; how we are shaped, in the midst of of an impersonal order, through relations with others; and how any kind of hope for survival of the apocalypse involves addressing the “malaises of modernity”:  radical individualism, instrumentalism, in which our lives are incorporated into the efficient functioning of society, and the infinity of personal choices that leads to a paralysis that can end up in the surrender of freedom to tyranny.

These themes are surveyed through a tour of apocalyptic film and television. Beginning with Battlestar Galactica, the authors explore the efforts of characters (and Cylons) to self-define and self-actualize. We discover in works as disparate as The Hunger Games and Her (a series involving romantic relationship with an operating system) how authenticity and self-definition can occur only in relational and social contexts.

We consider the dark side of the quest for authenticity when the “horizon of choice” turns to power in series like House of Cards, Breaking Bad, and Mad Men. In each, we see that the anti-hero’s quest for significance through power is a delusion that ends up rendering the anti-hero powerless. We see these themes writ large in the political order of Westeros in Game of Thrones.  Joustra and Wilkinson conclude, “It is the pathological forms of authenticity, anthropocentrism, and instrumentalism that will feel winter’s coldest chill. That an apocalypse is coming is proof that hidden meaning remains to be unveiled…” (p. 135).

To survive “the apocalypse” we must confront the realities behind The Night of the Living Dead” and World War Z,  that exposes the reality that there is no such think as “naked self-interest.” Given the pluralism of our society, there are a multitude of a “self-interests” for people and institutions, some pathological, and some because they are rooted in an understanding of who we are, what people are for, and where we are going, are better.

Apocalypses are about “the end.” But they also point us to “ends” beyond the end, to ways of living that anticipate what is beyond apocalypse, whether in the end we avoid it or not. The danger is nostalgia, an attempt to turn back the clock. Yet the secular age, with its radical pluralism is upon us. Better than retreats into nostalgia or personal “sheltering in place” is a posture of seeking to be architects who seek contribute to social institutions for better, seeking to shape rather than merely being shaped. The writers propose that this is always a “proximate” effort. Seeking the prosperity of Babylon will not bring in the New Jerusalem. It is always at best pursuing common cause with constructive disagreement.

It was this last that I especially appreciated. Instead of naive idealism, stark, power-hungry realism, or a disaffected retreat, the authors point us, and particularly Christians who care about society, toward a posture of being salt in society, preserving and perhaps enhancing, and in the process, enabling us to survive with our souls should apocalypse come. The authors, unpacking Taylor’s massive work and connecting it to popular media, serve us well in helping us understand our present times, the end that apocalypse represents, and the ends we might pursue as we allow the possible future to shape our present.